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Impact of wild herbivorous mammals and birds on the altitudinal and northern treeline ecotones

Landscape Online | Volume 30 | 2012 | Pages: 1-28| DOI:10.3097/LO.201230 | Published: October 25th, 2012

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Impact of wild herbivorous mammals and birds on the altitudinal and northern treeline ecotones

Friedrich-Karl Holtmeier

Institute of Landscape Ecology, University of Münster, Robert-Koch-Straße 28, D-48149 Münster, Germany, fkholtmeier@arcor.de

Wild herbivorous mammals may damage treeline vegetation an cause soil erosion at a local scale. In many high mountain areas of Europe and North America, large numbers of red deer have become a threat to the maintenance of high-elevation forests and attempts to restore the climatic treeline. In northern Fennoscandia, overgrazing by reindeer in combination with mass outbreaks of the autumnal moth are influencing treeline dynamics. Moose are also increasingly involved damaging treeline forest. In the Alps, the re-introduction of ibex is causing local damage to subalpine forests and tree establishment above the forest limit as well as aggravating soil erosion. High-elevation forests and treeline in Europe are susceptible to the deleterious impact of wild ungulate populations because of former extensive pastoral use. Rodents may damage tree seedlings and saplings by girdling, root cutting, bark stripping and burrowing. Hares damage young trees by gnawing. Large numbers of small rodents may occasionally impede tree regeneration by depleting the seed sources. Rodents do not contribute to forest expansion beyond the current treeline. Among birds, nutcrackers are highly effective in influencing tree distribution patterns and treeline dynamics. Without the nutcracker caching of stone pine seeds any upward advance of the trees in response to climatic warming would be impossible. Some bird species such as black grouse, willow grouse and ptarmigan can impair tree growth by feeding on buds, catkins and fresh terminal shoots.

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